By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
MONTAGU MP Richard Lightbourn has expressed his “total frustration” in the lack of response by the Christie administration to over 200 questions about national issues read and tabled in the House of Assembly by the Official Opposition dating back to 2012.
Mr Lightbourn, in an interview with The Tribune on Friday, accused the government of choosing to “ignore” the questions posed by various members of the Official Opposition, charging that the Christie administration “just seems to be prepared to share whatever they feel is of benefit to them and then they hush up”.
He said that while he has no “real hope or belief” that the government will respond to any the questions the Opposition has raised, they “need to be out there so that the country has got to understand that these people just seem to feel that they can do whatever they wish without regard for proper parliamentary etiquette and business etiquette”.
The rebel Free National Movement (FNM) MP referred to a list of 23 questions, collectively addressed to Prime Minister Perry Christie, Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis, and Agriculture Minister V Alfred Gray, over a number of issues, including the exporting of Conch and Sea Cucumbers, the controversy surrounding hotelier Philip Ruffin’s unpaid casino taxes and the controversy surrounding the $650m letter of intent with Stellar Waste-to-Energy. He said those questions were tabled in the House of Assembly, and thus should be on the agenda for Monday’s sitting of Parliament.
However, he said he was not hopeful that the questions would be answered or even addressed, referring to a myriad questions asked by the Opposition about various national issues since the start of this Parliamentary term.
“If you look on the agenda, every time we have a new sitting they have a new agenda which lists new Bills that have been read, first second time, etc,” he said. “So they have all the Bills listed, then they list the questions. Well, the questions go back to 2012. I think there’s over 200 questions on that thing which have not been addressed.
“Every once in a while you come forward and they would answer a couple. From different members from the FNM. Neko Grant did a lot, (Dr Minnis) did a bunch, Loretta. Members have tabled questions, they just ignore them.
“I don’t frankly have any real hope or belief that they will respond to any of them, but I just think they need to be out there that the country has got to understand that these people just seem to feel that they can do whatever they wish without regard for proper parliamentary etiquette and business etiquette. No wonder this country is in the state it’s in today.
“There’s a total frustration but it’s just like everything else. This government just seems to be prepared to share whatever they feel is of benefit to them and then they hush up. They need to be open with the public.”
In one of his questions to Mr Christie, Mr Lightbourn seeks to have the Prime Minister clarify whether or not “all casino taxes owed by any corporate entity controlled by Mr Ruffin have been paid to the Government”. Last year, Mr Ruffin, in a statement issued by his Bahamian attorneys, Davis & Co, vehemently denied that he owed any outstanding casino taxes to the Public Treasury.
However, that contradicted the findings of the Government’s own auditor and Ministry of Finance officials, with the former’s 2013-2014 fiscal year report stating that the former Crystal Palace Casino owner still owes $7.277 million. Their findings were also backed by Obie Wilchcombe, Minister of Tourism, who has responsibility for gaming.
“The story on the street is that he did pay it, that he paid it to Davis & Co,” Mr Lightbourn told The Tribune. “Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But certainly according to the Auditor General there’s been no evidence forthcoming that it was paid.”
Turning his attention to Mr Gray, Mr Lightbourn called on the MICAL MP to inform Parliament “to whom licences were issued authorising the export of Conch from the Bahamas for each of the years 2012 to 2016 inclusive” as well as “the terms upon which such licenses were issued”.
Mr Lightbourn told The Tribune that such information is crucial because the the local Conch population is being “depleted”.
“When you were growing up you could go right here in Nassau harbour and get a pile of Conch,” Mr Lightbourn said. “But now you got to go down south of Acklins to get them. Why do you think that is? Because people deplete them. And they’re getting smaller and smaller (in numbers). But we’re going to sit here and in the next five years, 10 years, suddenly your Conch costs $20 a Conch, and you’re going to wonder why. People are going to scream and carry on.
“You go in every restaurant that sells local stuff, Conch is the main number,” Mr Lightbourn added. “You go down to Arawak Cay, Potters Cay, Conch salad all the time. But the day you can’t afford conch salad is when you’re going to start screaming. But let’s deal with it now.
“But we’re just sitting here just allowing the corruption. The failure to enforce laws is going to destroy everything that ever meant anything in this country.”